Some of you that follow my Facebook page have probably seen my updates detailing the birth of five puppies to my female dog (named Sophie) in late April. For those of you that haven’t seen them, I have compiled an online photo album of the last few months, detailing their growth and development.
If I were to come up with a single word that describes the whole process of being surrogate grandparents to these baby canids, it would be ‘epic’. Every day since their birth has been a day of interest, excitement, and wonder. From a neurochemical perspective, snuggling with puppies has done a lot to raise the collective oxytocin levels at our house. Over the past summer, our front garden with its jumble of humans and puppies lying lethargically in the grass has at times resembled something like a opium den, attracting a steady stream of “customers” from far and wide.
Of course this bliss has been interrupted on occasion. For example, I definitely under-estimated their collective, destructive power. Up until about six weeks old, the fencing I had protecting my backyard pots, garden boxes, kitchen herbs, raspberries, and squashes seemed to work very well, and I must admit, I was maybe a little smug in my satisfaction.
But then like a reckoning from heaven, those “adorable” puppies proceeded to rip it all apart in a very short period of time. For a few weeks, it would become something of a ritual for me to wake up every morning, and looking out the open bedroom window that surveyed my backyard, see five wagging excited puppies showing me just how “busy” they had been overnight. And then, just as soon as I would fix the fencing and reinforce it they would find a way to bust through it, rip it off, or quite literally, chew it up into tiny little pieces.
Beyond the wanton destruction of all things green and growing, or indeed anything fibrous including the corner of the house and welcome mats, my chief concern these past few months has been the proper nourishment of both Sophie and the puppies. During her pregnancy, I supplemented Sophie’s diet with organ meats including liver and heart, in additional to her usual diet of raw meaty cartilaginous bones. At three years old, her body was old enough to have babies, but as she was the smallest of her litter, I knew that the challenge would be for her to maintain her weight. It was a little nerve-wracking when during earlier in the pregnancy she didn’t want to eat anything, but this is a normal response experienced by many dogs. By mid-to-late in her pregnancy, she was eating a huge amount of food.
Sophie went into labor about a week early, and because she didn’t really do much in the way of nesting, she ended up giving birth on my daughter’s bed late one night. After my daughter called out, I staggered in half-awake to see the first little puppy born, and another on its way. It was quite remarkable just how quickly instinct kicked in after her initial shock. Even before the second pup was out of the birth canal Sophie had ripped open the amniotic sack, gobbled it up and the placenta, and licked the pup clean.
I know that there is some debate as to whether or not humans should eat the afterbirth, considering that we are the only mammalian species not to. The only thing I can say is that if it were eaten the same manner as all other mammals, I can’t see how it would hurt, as disgusting as it may seem to some. Cooking up the placenta, or freeze-drying and encapsulating it is offered as an alternative, but I am not aware of any good research to suggest that it is required – just in case any woman feels guilty for not eating her placenta. Generally, all postpartum women require extra nutrition and support, and apart from eating the placenta this can also be obtained through the use of a building (brimhana) diet described in Ayurveda, along with rejuvenating medicinal herbs. Ensuring a nutrient-rich diet in a loving supportive environment is a good way to help avoid postpartum depression, and ensure the proper recovery of the mother.
Given Sophie’s asthenic nature, by about 4 weeks of lactation she was starting to look a little skinny, but not in any kind of unsafe way. Nonetheless, it was time to starting introducing food to the puppies. Those of you that have read my blog know very well that I don’t have much time for the dry food diet recommended by most veterinarians and the pet food industry. Knowing, however, that a puppy has distinct nutritional needs from an adult dog, I began to research what these nutritional requirements are, and how I could obtain this in the manner of the natural, raw food diet that I have been feeding my animals for the last 15 years.
Some research I conducted online, to look at what other ‘experts’ suggested, and quite frankly, found a bizarre potpourri of suggestions and amendments to a natural food diet for dogs, including foods such as cereals, legumes and nuts that have no place in a dog’s diet. As a member of the Canidae family, dogs require mostly meat and bone in their diet, although they do have a limited capacity to digest some carbohydrates, and do naturally seek out small amounts fibrous foods like grass as a digestive aid. As such, the best diet for a puppy is going to be meat-based, and something like ground lamb, turkey or beef can serve as a good base for a recipe.
The recipe, however, cannot contain only muscle meat. It is equally important to make sure that the diet is amended with nutritionally-dense organ meats, i.e. offal, such as heart, gizzards, liver, kidney, etc. While the puppies teeth are still developing, these foods can be blended up with some ground meat, making up no more than 20% of the entire volume of the recipe. Liver in particular should only be added once or twice a week, as the high levels of vitamin A can cause problems such as weight loss, emaciation, joint pain, impaired growth, and a dull, rough coat. In addition and sometimes instead of the offal, raw egg yolks – carefully separated from their whites – are an excellent addition to this recipe.
While the extra nutrients from the offal and egg yolk are vital to the puppies’ diet, additional nutrients are required in the form of minerals and fatty acids. While my adult female dog can easily chew up soft bone and cartilage, a four week old puppy cannot, so another source of “boney” nutrients needs to be found. One way to do this is to grind up your adult dog’s raw meaty bones, but unless you have an industrial-strength grinder, it’s highly unlikely you will be able to grind up the bone sufficiently. There are some commercial sources that do offer this, for example Surrey Meat Packers here in the Vancouver area. I have avoided buying from these sources, however, not only because I can’t see what they’re stuffing down the hopper when they grind it (a complaint I have with all ground and processed meat), but simply because all my dogs never seemed to like it.
Faced with this conundrum, I decided upon an old folk remedy for weak bones that has drawn some recent scientific interest: egg shells. Comprised mostly of calcium but also an assortment of trace minerals in a similar ratio to animal bone, egg shells are cheap and highly effective way to boost the mineral content of your pet’s diet – and can be used in humans too. Unlike commercial calcium carbonate and oyster shell sources used in supplements and pet food, egg shells are low in toxic minerals such as aluminum and heavy metals. A half tsp of eggshell contains almost a gram of calcium, as well as smaller amounts of strontium, magnesium, vanadium, boron, iron, zinc, phosphorus, nitrogen, iron, selenium, copper and chromium. (more info here)
Considering that we were already using egg yolk in the recipe for the puppy food, we were accumulating a lot of egg shells, and so it made sense to use them. To prepare the eggshells in a way they can be ingested, the first task is to sterilize them. To do this, rinse out the egg shell immediately after cracking it, putting it aside to dry. When you have accumulated a tray full of egg shells, place them in the oven at 250˚C for 15 minutes, before the eggshells turn brown from excessive heat. An alternate method is to boil the eggs shells in water for 2-3 minutes. Once cooled, grind the egg shells into a fine powder with a coffee grinder, passing it through a fine metal mesh strainer to ensure a small particle size. Any shell that doesn’t pass through can be reground, sieved again, and the remainder discarded. This egg shell powder can be stored in a clean, dry container, mixed in with the puppy food as required. In addition to the egg shell I also added some kelp to the recipe, the richest plant-source of minerals available, just as an insurance policy to provide a well-rounded balance of minerals in the diet.
Last but not least, I needed to consider the importance of fat in the puppies’ diet. When I first got Sophie from a rural logger in the West Kootenays, it was pretty obvious that was the runt of the litter, just from her size. At eight weeks Sophie was quite skinny and her coat was dull and rough, no doubt from the cheap puppy kibble she had been reared on. While she adjusted relatively well to the raw food diet, she wasn’t putting on weight fast enough. So I began to hand feed her chunks of grass-fed butter, something she licked up with gusto. Considering all the emphasis on specialized supplements with exotic seed oils, some of you might be surprised to learn that grass-fed butter contains a balanced percentage and ratio of linoleic (omega 6) and linolenic (omega 3) fatty acids, both of which are required by dogs, as well as humans. It is no surprise then, when in a few weeks of this literal “butterfest” that Sophie’s coat became glistening and soft, as it has remained ever since.
Fortified by my earlier experience with butter, I decided to add this to the puppy food, rotating in other fats as well including olive oil, coconut oil, and home-rendered lard. Taken altogether, the recipe I devised for the puppies consisted of blending the following ingredients:
- one cup raw (previously frozen) ground beef, lamb, turkey, and/or pork
- -includes 20% ground offal, i.e. heart, liver, kidney, gizzard, etc.
- two raw egg yolks (no whites)
- 2 tbsp egg shell powder
- 2-3 tbsp melted grass-fed butter, lard, or tallow
- olive oil and/or coconut oil can be rotated in as well
- 1-2 tsp kelp powder
While this recipe comprised most of the puppies’ diet during and after weaning, as they grew we began to add in other foods. One of the first whole foods we introduced were tiny fish called smelts that we could buy frozen, complete with heads, guts and eggs, that could be thawed out quickly when the pups needed to be fed. At first the pups didn’t know what to do with the smelts, but just as soon they got started, they gobbled them up with ferocious abandon. I also made use of canned (bone-in) sardines, as amendments to Sophie’s diet when she was lactating and not showing much interest in her regular food, to ensure sufficient calcium.
By about the eighth week, the puppies were ready for whole foods. I laid out small pieces of the raw meaty bone that I normally feed Sophie, and let the puppies check it out. They all approached it with caution, approaching it then suddenly backing away, worried perhaps that the meat was going to attack them. But slowly and surely they came closer to smell and lick the meat. Overall, it took them a day or so to for them figure out that in order to eat it, they needed to tear it up into smaller pieces. And just as soon as they discovered this, meal time had become occasion for a raucous food fight! Mostly this consisted of one puppy stealing another’s dinner from under their nose, with the ensuing chase and multiparty tug-o-wars ending up as several smaller pieces, and a happy result for all. Such is the way the puppies have learned to work together. Now with only the two female pups left in our charge, at the age of four and a half months, they essentially eat the same diet as their mother, and are quickly growing into two beautiful dogs.
If you have a new puppy and are confused about what to feed them, hopefully this post has been of some use to you. If you have any questions, please post them in the comment section below. Please note that I am not a veterinarian and cannot comment on what to feed your puppy if they are sick or otherwise unwell. What information on this blog you chose to employ is at your own risk.